Sunday, September 25, 2011

Big Lick Triathlon: Race Recap

     When future archeologists begin researching race results of 21st century athletic type people they will undoubtedly look to the 2011 Big Lick Triathlon as the pinnacle of human achievement in the realm of endurance sports events. Actually, err, maybe not so much..., but still I had a great time out there today and I was thrilled to be a part of this event as the runner on a relay team. In acknowledging that my open water swim skills were too unreliable for me to make an effort as an individual racer, I had about written this event off. As I was finishing up a treadmill workout a few weeks back I guess Larry S. saw some potential in me and tapped me for a run spot on his relay team. I was more than happy to oblige.

     Unlike the Iron Mountain Trail Race from a few weeks back, this race didn't actually fit into my training plan for the Richmond Marathon, but it was was worth it to me to make the adjustments so I eliminated cycling workouts for the week to keep my legs fresh, did my interval and tempo training on consecutive days early in the week on Monday and Tuesday to allow for more rest at the end of the week, did my long run at a recovery pace on Thursday so as conserve intensity for race day, and used Wednesday and Friday as rest days except for the fact of swimming a few pool laps to keep things loose.

     Also for this race I ran into fellow triathlete, former classmate, Northside High School athlete, and just all around good guy Neil B. I took to living actively back in Jan. 2009 and I discovered Facebook shortly after in May or June of that year. As FB connections with old friends and classmates started becoming the norm at about the same time that I was figuring out what "being athletic" means to me (no, I had never been athletic before 2009, never, not even in High School) I was inspired that a good handful of people began to offer me encouragement. I looked around for one former track star, just to see how she was doing, and was saddened to learn Christina C. had passed away at a very young age. On the mens side, however, Neil B. was active with triathlons and suggested I try one. I explained how I can't swim and nothing more was said (posted) about it, but in the back of my runners mind the words "I can't" just weren't sitting well with me anymore. I had a gym membership, the gym had a pool, and when my daughter presented me with the opportunity by wanting to spend a lot of time at the pool...I slowly learned how to swim.

     Swim, yes, in a pool, and many who might read this know I already did a couple of pool swim triathlons, but open water is not where my comfort level is right now, maybe next year. Which brings me to this race....Our swimmer, Bobby B. , a year or two out of High School is phenomenal in the water and setting school records at his college while he's just practicing. Larry S., our cyclists, is a regularly on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so with that kind of experience tackling elevation I knew he could hold his own, and I'm training for the Richmond Marathon, where I'm looking to go under 3 1/2 hour and I've picked up masters awards in my last 2 races. I thought we had as good a shot as any at a good overall finish time.

     We made our introductions, got our gear in order and waited for the start. Seeing a nearly 1 mile swim course laid out was memorable. I can look at the pool and say "30 laps" but its just not the same visual picture. Watching the swimmers take off and swim was also quite the experience. Swimming is a comparatively slow activity among the 3 triathlon disciplines and even the best swimmers took a few minutes to firmly establish a lead. With all the swimmers all in the water and the distance that I was from the beach I couldn't tell Bobby from anyone else, so I just stretched and waited around the transition area.

     Turns out it's a lot of waiting involved with being on a triathlon relay team. Bobby got out of the water, Larry took off to do his cycling, and I waited some more...eventually Larry got back, and from my point of view that is when the action started!

     Running a 10k as part of a triathlon is different than with a traditional road race because with a triathlon slower runners can get way out in front by being  better swimmers or cyclists. I knew the best I could do would be to not become complacent with the pace of whoever was in front of me. Just get out there and pass people. Do it aggressively and get it done. In a road race I might tie a rope around a faster runner and let them "pull" me to their pace, In a triathlon its more of a bungee cord and I sling shot myself past whoever is in front. I couldn't count how many people I passed, but the great thing about the athletic community is all the encouragement we give each other, especially runners, the whole time I'm out there passing people all I'm hearing is "good job", "way to take that hill" and "go get it".

     As for the terrain, Mile 1 was a slight uphill. The Garmin will say 6:11, but I started my watch in transition so I'm gonna call it 6 minutes flat. Miles 2,3 & 4 (6:24, 6:41 and 7:05 respectively) were just finishing the incline started in the first mile and some moderate rolling hills. Mile 5 took us down a steep hill to a turn around and then right back up it, I felt like I made good time running down the hill, but I lost more than I gained coming back up it, 7:27 on that one. Mile 6 I took a few 10ths to recover from the uphill and then picked the pace back up to the mid 6's (6:41 to be exact). As the finish came into view I thought I was running solo, but a volunteer called out to a participant in such a way that I figured he was right behind me. Rather than take a chance at getting burned at the finish line, I summoned up every ounce of speed I could and finished strong for the final 10th. The Garmin registered 13 mph for my sprint to the finish, but there could be a margin for error. I was late, as always, turning my Garmin off, so I don't know time to call for that section.

     Oddly, after the race, I wished it had been another 2 miles or so. I guess it's all the long distance training I've been doing, I just felt like I had  more to give. Never the less, the cold water bottle handed to me by the volunteer was welcome and I enjoyed a little cool down walk. Larry kept an eye on the results sheet and informed me that it looked like we had 3rd place locked up for the male relay. We ate the post race meal of spaghetti, corn, green beans, and a roll, then we collected our 3rd place trophies at the awards ceremony and headed back to our homes.

     Great way to spend the morning...Official race results Big Lick Triathlon (1500m/40k/10k) Time-2h34m27s, (S-20:12, T1-1:04, B-1:30:54, T2-0:36, R-41:43) here is the Garmin data for my 10k run...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Training For Richmond: Week 9

     Tempo: 8 miles (Mon): (Pre-run psych up) Ok, this is it. Final attempt to set an 8 mile PR on my Dedicated Parkway 8 Mile training route during this training cycle. Time to beat is 57:06 and I aim to make it look easy. No meat yesterday, oatmeal this morning, trying Muscle Milk as a pre-run experiment. :) I did it. I suspected a little pre-run blogging would help me focus. This was my 3rd and final 8 mile tempo run in the current training cycle and achieving the PR today is a huge confidence booster. I had a strong 8 mile on the treadmill 2 weeks ago, but when I tried to repeat that performance on asphalt last week I came up a little short. Ordinarily I would have done this weeks 8 mile tempo on technical trails, but I needed a 2nd chance at the PR for this route. Here is the Garmin comparison data for all 3 of my 8 mile tempo's in this training cycle..., Garmins record treadmill data a little differently, so please disregard any confusing data on that one.

     Intervals: 10 miles (Tues): Raining this morning so rather than get out a muddy trail where my ability to hit target paces would be hampered by the mud (and to avoid overexposure to asphalt) I took it to the treadmill. First time doing intervals on a treadmill...I didn't like it a whole lot. I like treadmills for short distance tempo running, but with intervals I was always having to watch my distance and change up my speeds at specific intervals and it made it difficult to get in the "zone". I cant remember my exact statistical breakdown, but it was 1/2 mile increment alternating between high 5's and low 7's for the first 4ish miles, then high 6's and high 8's for the last 6 miles. Having not done intervals on a treadmill before I'm not certain how this compares to other interval workouts, but it was a good overall pace of 7:23 min/mile.

     Long: 18 miles (Thurs): I have a 10k race this Saturday so I wanted to get my long run in a few days early. I went to Explore Park and just started running. I had entertained thoughts of pre running the Into the Darkness night trail race course, but the road was posted No Trespassing, so I ran around the beginner trail and the down to the Roanoke River and back and then thought it would be a good idea to run to the Stewarts Knob Trail head and back. I didn't estimate the mileage very well and ended up 2 miles from my car after the run was over. My intention was just to set a pleasant pace and enjoy this as a long recovery run, but the humidity was high and having just ran a 18 miles 5 days ago I really had to dig deep.

     Tempo (Race Actually): 6.2 miles (Sat): As a tempo run this was slightly above par as compared to recent statistical data. For a full evaluation of this run feel free to read my race report for the Big Lick Triathlon.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Survival, Aggression and Violence

     So what do survival, aggression and violence have to do with anything? For me they are the triathlon of inner competitiveness. I swim like a guy trying to survive being in the water, my cycling is an act of aggression against my own limitations, and running pushes my boundaries so violently that not even death itself can stop me from crossing a finish line.

   Short blog post, but for some reason it seems that this just needs to be put out there...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Training for Richmond: Week 8

     Intervals: 10 Miles (Mon): My interval training had been going so well the past few weeks that I decided to make the target paces tougher. Typically, for this course, I shoot for 8's on the recoveries (odd numbered laps) and 6's on the sprints (even numbered laps). It had been 3 weeks since I ran intervals on this course, and last time was 8 miles where as now I'm running 10, but I decided to toughen the target paces to alternating between 5's and 6's on the sprints and alternating 7's and 8's on the recoveries. I am thrilled to have hit all target paces for the first 17 of 20 laps (8.44 miles). The final 2 sprints (laps 18 and 20) were about 30 seconds slower than target as my energy level had plummeted fast. The final recovery lap (Lap 19) was on target though.
     I ran this course for intervals 3 times in the current training cycle. Week 8, Week 5, and Week 2 Garmin comparison data, shows significant progress.

     Tempo: 8 Miles (Wed): I was expecting to do a bit better than this today. Looking at my historical data for this course I can't be too disappointed with getting it done in under an hour, but I had been entertaining hopes of breaking the 57:06 PR I set on Mar 14th this year when I was training for the Blue Ridge Half. I think I'll try again on Monday. Monday is a better day for PR attempts anyway because I'm mostly rested from just doing light, non-cardio type exercises on Sunday. Here is the today-vs-course record Garmin data:

     Recovery: 4 Miles (Fri): The weather was perfect today and I just couldn't hold back as much as I should have. The cool air fueling my lungs created an almost euphoric sensation and I felt like I had to just give it more than what a typical recovery run would call for. I ended with my 2nd fastest time for this course and I know I could have PR'd if I really wanted it, so I guess I have to give myself some credit for holding back on a recovery run.

     Long: 18 Miles (Sat): Good long run today. I was undecided what type of long run to do today (flat, mountainous, little of both...) even after I started. I suspected I was gonna take it kinda flat and easy as I started heading south and downhill at Mile Post 105. About 1/2 mile into it I see a runner running north (uphill) at a good solid pace and I think "My uphills have been a little bit weak lately, I better check to see where I am as compared to 6 months ago on the Full Mountain course." So I turn around at Mile Post 106, which is the bottom of the mountain and run to Mile Post 100, which is the top of the mountain. I hadn't looked at the stats lately, but I remembered doing it back in March with paces in the 8's on the way up and 6's on the way down. I feel a certain sense of accomplishment at repeating that today, even if I was a little slower starting out. After running the 12 mile Full Mountain course, I noticed that my average pace was close to target in the mid 7's and I had 6 more miles to go for today's scheduled 18 miler, so I ran my Dedicated Parkway 6 Miler to make for the full scheduled 18 mile run. My energy level started feeling a bit diminished about halfway through the last 6 miles, but somehow I hung onto typical speeds for 2 more uphill miles and the WHAM, with 1 mile to go I barely had anything and a stretch of road that usually takes 6-7 minutes ended up taking almost 8! Again, it was a good run and it was my first 18 miler in almost a year. Final average pace was 7:42 min/mile which given the elevation profile I can't be too hard on myself for letting get a little slower than the 7:30 target.

     Here is the comparison data for the first 12 miles as compared to 6 months ago...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Running Up a Down Escalator...(Random thoughts from the good Dr.)

     Just a random assortment of typical thoughts...

     1) It would seem that not everybody is athletic from birth. I get that, I myself never really did anything in the way of being athletic till I was 37 1/2 years old. I will never know what kind of personal records I might have set if I had trained for races when I was more youthful, I'm ok with that. My big question for myself is " If the average person peaks athletically at 27, and I'm 40 and still improving, then when will I hit my lifetime peak? I am incredibly inspired by some of the 50+ crowd out there doing these races, especially those who can out race me. They give me hope that my best days are still in front of me. Had I been athletic my whole life I would have went through these thoughts a decade or so ago when statistical probabilities would have indicated that I should expect a slow gradual decrease in athletic ability, so even though I'm still catching up to my potential, I'm doing it on a downward running up a down's a great feeling and I can't think of a better way to spend my time, but every run, bike or swim I do there is a voice in my head asking me if this is the one, that one performance that will mark the best that I am capable of and ever will be capable of...scary stuff... I'm still setting PR's. I'm a PR apologies.

     2) Bitter sweet. Big Lick Triathlon. I'm in for the run leg as part of a relay team. I spent most of the spring and early to mid summer entertaining thoughts of doing the Big Lick Tri as an individual, and as my "A" race, but I was forced to admit that I have limitations and that I can't do it all. There will come a day when I will be "ok" with "just" participating in an event, but that day is not today. For now I expect a lot from myself and I chose to focus my routine around getting a marathon PR in Richmond this November and that meant not developing the mental and physical skills associated with open water swimming. No regrets, just choices. Time is valuable and many things in life come before event training (God, Husband, Father, Home Owner, Pet Owner, etc..) Maybe next year I will make triathlons more of a priority.

   3) All these medals. I finally got around to displaying my medals and race bibs and sometimes I look at 'em and I'm just like "Wow, everyone of these has a special meaning, but at the same time, some of these are really special." Now that I've had to think about it, I think I may have to be buried with 3 of them. The kids and grand kids can fight over the other 15 (so far). When I do an event and crossing the finish line literally changes how I view myself, then I want to take a piece of that to the grave with me. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Training for Richmond: Week 7

     Intervals: 10.73 miles: (Mon): First 7 laps were on target in the 6's and 8's just like during week 3 training, and the remaining laps were in the 7's and 9's just like in week 3 training. Still, it is significant improvement that this week the 7's and 9's were on the low end and in week 3 they were on the high end. Also, this week I ran 4 more laps and held the better paces which speaks well for my endurance.

     Tempo: 8 miles: (Wed): Overall happy with holding a 6:48 pace for this run. Dropped out of the 9.5 mph pace at mile 3.1 and had intended to hold it till mile 4 as I had done 3 weeks ago, not sure where the decreased performance came from, but I'll chalk it up to a nutritional deficiency. Anyways I only held 9.0 mph from mile 3.1 to 4, and then I dropped it to 8.8 till mile 6.2 and then dropped it to 7.5 for the remainder of the run. The 6:48 pace is acceptable, but I'm not really happy about the week to week decrease in performance over the first 6 miles. Here is the comparison data for my top treadmill tempo runs at the 4, 6, and 8 mile distances... I think a 6:34 pace today would have been statistically realistic, but again...nutritional deficiency and enough about that. It was my fastest 8 miler ever, so I guess that's worth something.

     Recovery: 4.08 miles: (Fri): In keeping with the spirit of recovery running, I just kinda put it in neutral and kept a relaxed pace with this one. Then I realized after the 3rd mile that I had done each mile in 8 min/mile range, so I kicked it up a notch just to see if I could do the 4th mile at a sub 9 pace. I had wanted to run that specific mile at sub 9 for some time, but after putting 3 in front of it I never could squeak it out. Finally got it today!

     Long: 16 miles: (Sat): I really needed this! My target long run pace is 7:30 and this was the first time hitting it in the current training cycle. I had gotten a 14 miler into the high 7's a few weeks back, but nothing close to 7:30. And to top it off...I felt like I could have run 2 or 3 more miles at target pace, but better to not push it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Training For Richmond: Week 6 (All Trail Week)

     Interval: 10.3 miles (Mon): I hit all my target paces for each lap for the first time for an interval run in this current training cycle. Target was 9's on the recoveries and 7's on the sprints. Next time I do intervals on this trail I'll tweak the target pace to low 9's and mid 7's.

     Tempo: 6 miles (Wed): I was just a little disappointed that I couldn't get my average pace into the mid 7's with this run. It was my fastest trail run in months though and my training has mostly focused on asphalt so I'm not going to beat myself up over it.

     Recovery: 4 miles (Thurs): I took it real slow and just went through the motions with this one. I intentionally did not produce a target pace just so I wouldn't push anywhere. My only goal was to not get injured prior to Saturdays race and I achieved that.

     Long: 16.67 miles (Sat): Decided to do a race for my long run this week since the distance was right. My race goals can be reviewed on my race report , however, strictly viewing this from a long run perspective, I'd have to say that I felt strong throughout the whole run and that the pace is more a reflection of the elevation gain and not really something I can use to gauge my Richmond goals against.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

2011 Iron Mountain Race Recap

     Not just a race, but more of an adventure. The Iron Mountain trail race fit perfectly into my training schedule and since I'm training without step back weeks (that's where you cut your weekly mileage back periodically) I felt like an all-trail week ending with a trail race would be a great way to simulate a step back week. I say this because even though I bumped my weekly mileage up another 2 miles, I decreased the effective impact of each step by running all my miles on trails and foregoing the asphalt.

     The adventure began with a longish road trip. Usually I avoid driving more than an hour for a race 1) because I think it encourages the local community to create more races and 2) because races usually happen in the early morning already, so who wants to get up even earlier to travel? I do make exceptions..., such as for Richmond (which is the closest Boston Qualifier) and for, well, today's Iron Mountain since it was the exact right distance for training purposes.

     Rather than drive down early Saturday morning and have to fight stiff legs and lack of sleep during the run, I met up with fellow mountain junkie and blogger James Ingrassia and we took to the highway Friday evening to survey the Start/Finish area, figure out a parking strategy, pick up our race numbers and catch a few zzz's at a local establishment so as to accommodate more sleep. I think the strategy worked well in that I reached the start line feeling refreshed and ready to go.

     Now my expectations for this race were kinda hazy since I was unfamiliar with the terrain, but I did want to finish with an overall pace in the 8's. I also wanted to make the list of top 10 finishers of all time. I had looked at prior years results and these objectives seemed doable, but not necessarily a sure thing. I had a nagging feeling that I was underestimating the course profile.

     Miles 1-4.7: This was the Creeper Trail miles. Easily the best part of the course. After the initial jockeying around, I found myself in 5th place and held it for this portion of the race. Running on the fine crushed gravel proved to be very comfortable, and the Creeper trail scenery was first rate. The 4th place guy had a solid pace going, so I was happy just to keep him in view. If he was going out too strong I'd pass him later, but we was just getting warmed up so no need to start in with aggressive race tactics right off the bat.

     Miles 4.7-8: My worst fears was realized as the course took us off the Creeper trail and onto the Appalachian trail. Hard technical climbing for the next 3.3 miles and I was unable to hold my own with it. Roughly 6 people passed me on this section, I lost count. Still motivated for a strong run I did what I could with it and was somewhat content when the passing stopped and I found myself running solo for a few miles.

     Miles 8-9.4: I had been running solo for several miles and became concerned I might have taken a wrong turn. Eventually a guy from Richmond caught up to me and confirmed I was on the right path. I asked him which distance he was running (btw...I didn't mention it up to now, but this event had 3 seperate races...a 16 a 30 and a 50 mile option) and he said the 30 miler, but that the course was the same on this section. We chatted for about a half mile about the Richmond Marathon and the Blue Ridge Parkway and then he had to pick his pace up a bit so off he went. Also this section was part of an out and back where runners were running to and from the turn around point. The 1st through 4th place runners passed back by me on this section as I was heading to the aid station.

     Aid Station: WHAT THE HECK!!! Here I am at the aid station and only 4 runners had passed back by me! That means all those others who blew by me on the steep climb were running the longer distances. YEE HAA! I'M STILL IN THE TOP 5!!! Grabbed a few grapes, a chug of gatorade and I'm OUTTA HEYA!!

     Miles 9.4-12: These was just the return miles from the out and back. I saw James and he confirmed I was 5th by his count too! This part of the run was a little awkward with all the people going in both directions, but everybody was courteous about it and many people stepped aside to yield the trail. I saw the 4th place guy for a minute, but he saw me too and turned on some juice that I wasn't carrying. I looked back once and never could see 6th so I felt it likely that I was holding 5th solidly.

     Miles 12-15.5: Eventually got off the out and back section and found myself running solo again. This section was very full of large, loose rocks and opportunities to open up the stride were few and far between. I misjudged one step and put my foot at a painful angle, but I shook it off. (Incidentally, I will shake off death itself to finish a race).

     Miles 15.5-Finish: I remained solo all the way to the finish. I know better than to take it for granted that nobody can catch me so I kept my pace as strong as possible. The course took us off the trails and onto some of the streets of Damascus then back to the Creeper trail for the home stretch to the finish.

     So I finish in 5th, felt good about my effort, and waited for an opportunity to filter through some of the results. Now my goal of a sub 9 pace may have happened because some folks GPS'd the route to be just over 17 miles, the race director calls it 16.8 and I GPS'd it at 16.67. My finish time of 2:32.30 would mean that only if the route were 17 miles would I have met that goal. It's possible, but I'm gonna use my own data and say I just missed it with a 9:08. No biggie, I did get on the top 10 of all time list at 7th, so thats a great consolation prize. Eventually we got to look at some other data and discovered that the 4th place finisher was under 40, so I picked up the 1st place master spot too! This was a low budget (but well run) race, so no Age Group or Masters awards, I even opted out of the shirt so no swagga for this one, but it was a great race. Glad I did it.

     Heres a link to the Garmin data: